Wednesday, 10 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Senator has used the words "shocking", "heartbreaking" and "a breach of faith". There is not one word he has said that I disagree with. I feel so much for the 18 families. I did not realise that one family found out on the eve of the "RTÉ Investigates" programme and that the other 17 families were informed before then. There are no excuses for that, and nothing I can say here will give comfort to the 18 families, not least the one family that was not included. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I was very upset when I heard about these much-wanted, loved babies' organs.
My colleagues and I are aware of the hurt this incident has caused to the families affected by the incident in Cork University Hospital. These families have been through the tragedy of having lost a beloved child, and it is absolutely unacceptable to me and to the Minister, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, that the organs of their children were disposed of in such a manner. There are no words that will ever give these families comfort. While it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases, I wish to accept and acknowledge the bravery of the couple who spoke about their experience and heartbreak on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on 28 September and the other families who shared their experiences on 19 October. These are parents who have suffered the loss of a child, and this extremely distressing situation should not have happened as it has only added to their distress and grief. Not only did they lose their loved, wanted babies, but to learn in such a way how their babies were disposed of - there are no words to describe it.
The Department of Health is advised that the HSE, the South/South West Hospital Group, CUH and Cork University Maternity Hospital have apologised to the bereaved families and very much regret the incident. The Minister for Health and the HSE are committed to ensuring there is learning across the health services to prevent such events happening again. This can never happen again. The Senator spoke about changing the law. The HSE has advised that a systems analysis review is being undertaken by the South/South West Hospital Group. The purpose of that review is to find answers as to what happened, why and what can be done to reduce the risk of it happening again. However, reducing the risk is enough. It cannot happen again. I would have zero tolerance for it. We cannot only reduce the risk of this happening again; it cannot happen again.
The HSE advises that the review team met last week to review queries raised by families and to plan meetings with families who wish to engage with the review. Family meetings will be offered on 22 November and 24 November. The timeline for completion of the review will depend on whether there is a requirement to reinterview any staff regarding any new issues raised by families. The review team will further consider the issues after those meetings. The South/South West Hospital Group advises that it will act on any recommendations emerging from the review. Open disclosure with the families involved is an ongoing process and continues for a considerable time in the aftermath of an incident. This includes engagement in the review process and in sharing the review with the families.
As for legislation, which the Senator raised, the human tissue (transplantation, post-mortem, anatomical examination, and public display) Bill will implement the key recommendation of the Madden report that no hospital post-mortem examination should be carried out and no tissue retained for any purpose whatsoever without the informed consent of the family or next of kin. That would have prevented this incident if it had been in place. The Bill will ensure that the principles of protection of the bodily integrity of the individual before and after death, respect for the autonomy of the individual, and the rights of the bereaved are enshrined in legislation.
I stand here as Minister of State with responsibility for older people and mental health in the Department of Health. I can only apologise to these families. I am heartbroken for them. It is an absolutely awful tragedy, it is shocking and it is an awful breach of trust for these families and their beloved babies.